Adapting to online teaching and learning

IWU professors continue to navigate the new challenges of online instruction

Union file photo

Iowa Wesleyan University announced it would be moving to a completely online format on March 12 in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Currently, professors at the university are continuing to work with students as the campus navigates the transition.
Union file photo Iowa Wesleyan University announced it would be moving to a completely online format on March 12 in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Currently, professors at the university are continuing to work with students as the campus navigates the transition.

MT. PLEASANT — Like many colleges across the country, Iowa Wesleyan University has made the decision to move all classes to an online format, a transition made in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Students who usually roam the campus are now either back at home or staying in resident halls and meeting with instructors virtually. Currently, the campus is utilizing education technology company Canvas to provide instruction to students.

As the school nears the end of their third week of online classes, professors are continuing to navigate the new challenges of online teaching and providing extra support to students who may need it.

Katie Aranda, Assistant Dean of Student Success Initiatives, said instructors have been “very accommodating and flexible” with students. As part of her position, Aranda works to provide academic support for students on a daily basis. The assistant dean noted current challenges facing students include learning to self-motivate in the absence of a traditional classroom setting as well as figuring out time management.

“The technology piece is also crucial,” Aranda added.

She explained that some students who have gone home may not have readily accessible internet or computers.

“Our labs on campus were heavily used. Some students didn’t come to campus with computers and now that they’re home, some of them are having to do their classes on a cellphone or share computers with family members,” Aranda explained.

The assistant dean added many students are communicating these challenges to professors and working through ways to make accommodations including “creative ways to gather assignments from students and not creating more barriers,” Aranda noted. This has included having students email in assignments or even doing assignments with students over the phone if they are unable to access Wi-Fi.

“I think the biggest piece is that the majority of faculty and students who have signed up for classes look forward to those engagement pieces. For professors, the biggest piece is to be able to have conversations still and figure out how to keep relationships going. It’s a new environment for them too; they’re not online teachers and they’re also learning to adapt to this new environment as a teacher,” Aranda added.

For Ann Klingensmith, a studio art teacher, adapting to online teaching has included completely changing the curriculum of some of her classes. Because students don’t have access to the same tools at home as they would on campus, Klingensmith has changed her class’ scope and mailed materials to students to be able to complete the new projects she has planned. This has particularly impacted her printing classes

“No one at home has a press, and usually no one should have a lot of access to oil based inks,” she said. Instead of traditional printing, her students will now be doing white line woodcuts, carving designs on plywood Klingensmith sent to them and then using their designs to make a print.

For Klingensmith, what has worked best is providing interactive pieces for students such as links to YouTube videos or recording videos of herself to demonstrate how to do specific things.

Though she has had to get creative, as a whole, the art teacher said the transition has been pretty smooth and the new projects still reach the goals and objectives of her class. However, like Aranda, Klingensmith understands “it’s not an even playing field for students,” especially on the technology side of things. Though she doesn’t personally have any students in her class who have trouble accessing technology, Klingensmith added that she has heard of students in other classes who have “opted to take a hardship pass,” due to the circumstances.

“I think we’re going to relish being in the classrooms again. This isn’t a model that works for most undergraduate students,” Klingensmith added about whether she feels the transition to all online learning will have any lasting effect on the way universities choose to provide classes in the future.

Valerie Unkrich, an associate professor of physical education, exercise science and wellness, said teaching online “has been a challenge and an adjustment.” As an exercise science professor, Unkrich usually structures her classes to allow students time in gymnasiums.

“Now my students are in front of a computer,” Unkrich notes. To make up for those more interactive pieces, Unkrich, like Klingensmith, has been sending students videos of activities they would have been able to observe.

Unkrich added she’s planning on having virtual meetings with her class, however because several students live in countries with different time zones scheduling a time may become difficult.

“I have not videotaped myself teaching a class yet, but I may be doing that soon,” Unkrich added of other methods of online teaching she is looking into.

The exercise science teacher, who has several students who do not have readily accessible internet access, said her students are still finding ways to get assignments in by finding free Wi-Fi in still-open public spaces.

“Unfortunately, it is the new normal,” she explained.

Still, Unkrich is glad to be able to connect with students, even if through the internet.

“We have discussion boards in our online classes, and I love reading student responses and thoughts on class topics, or even how they are personally coping right now with life issues,” Unkrich added.